Can Financial Samurai Be The Next Billion Dollar Financial Technology Company?

Financial Samurai LogoDo you know what’s fun and free? Dreaming BIG! As kids, we use to daydream all the time. I fantasized about being a professional tennis player who’d compete in tournaments around the world via a private jet until I realized I couldn’t even make it to All-State, just All-District. It was only until the age of 32 did I start dreaming again.

When Ariana Huffington sold The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million in 2013, The Smoking Gun, and several other sites reported that Ariana only received $21 million, or ~6.6% from the sale. $21 million isn’t chump change, but that’s a far cry from the original sale price.

Meanwhile, Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch sold his site to AOL in 2010 for only $40 million (includes incentives). 2010 was a bad time to sell anything – stocks, real estate, businesses, you name it. But because he owned an estimated ~80% of the site, Mike walked away with around $32 million, or 50% more than Ariana even though TechCrunch sold for 85% less than HuffPo!

It’s amazing how two vastly different sales prices can result in two surprisingly different windfalls due to company ownership structures. It often takes an army of employees and capital to build something massive. I’m not looking for fame, but I’m starting to wonder whether it’s time to once again rekindle the dreams of great fortune.

Whether you know it or not, you the FS community, is instrumental in the continued content production here. I struggled for years not wanting to do anything but travel and play because years ago I finally found “enough.” But thanks to your continued support and encouragement, I’ve kept on going. People keep asking whether I will ever run out of material to write. The answer is always “never,” because there’s an endless amount of things to talk about. If you can speak forever, you can write forever.

A new adventure on Financial Samurai may begin by the end of 2015, and I’d love to get your input once more. I’ve been seriously thinking about this topic since the beginning of the year. In fact, I’ve been sitting on this post since January, going through things in my head.

Investing Insights From Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt And Hardeep Walia, CEO Of Motif Investing

Hardeep Walia and Arthur Levitt

Hardeep Walia and Arthur Levitt

Reddit recently hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with Hardeep Walia, Founder and CEO of Motif Investing, and former SEC Chairman (1993-2001) and Motif Investing Board Member, Arthur Levitt. There were some pretty interesting exchanges that I thought were worth highlighting for anybody who uses Motif Investing and who is interested in investing as a whole.

Topics of discussion include:

* International expansion plans for Motif

* Views on mutual funds and bond funds

* How much money Arthur Levitt has in his checking account

* How can the middle class navigate the investing landscape better

* Thoughts on high frequency trading, Bitcoin, Vanguard, the SEC, and 401k regulation

Can Cash Be Considered An Investment? Or Is Cash One Big Drag?

Cash As An InvestmentThere’s a debate going on between Charles Schwab, who recently launched its Charles Schwab Intelligent Advisors service (robo-advisor), and robo-advisors, Wealthfront and Betterment about whether Charles Schwab’s robo-advisor service really is free. Because Charles Schwab wrote that it will recommend a 8-30% cash weighting for its clients depending on market conditions, Wealthfront and Betterment have gone on the offensive to point out that investing such a huge weighting in cash is not only costly in a hypothetical market return scenario, but irresponsible as well.

Charles Schwab can make money off its client’s cash by paying practically no interest, and reinvesting the cash in higher income producing investments. In other words, Charles Schwab can act like a bank, with a much lower funding cost. This may come as a surprise to many, but those who know how the finance industry works know it’s a simple spread business. The more money that can be cheaply procured, the more money can be deployed for hopefully higher profits.

It’s good that Wealthfront and Betterment have pointed out how Charles Schwab can actually make money from its free robo-advisory product. But here’s the thing, when was there ever a free lunch? Furthermore, although Wealthfront and Betterment keep their clients fully invested at all times, Betterment still charges a 0.15% – 0.35% fee and Wealthfront charges 0.25% on money after $10,000. There are also underlying ETF fees, averaging ~0.15%, which the client ultimately pays for their robo-advisors to build their portfolios.

Charles Schwab is charging 0.00% in fees for their robo-advisory service. Yes, if Charles Schwab also charged a 0.15% – 0.35% fee to manage money like Wealthfront and Betterment, while recommending 8%-30% cash, that would be odd. But Charles Schwab isn’t.

Let’s not debate which business model is better. Instead, let’s discuss whether cash can be considered an investment through a logical discussion.

Stocks Versus Real Estate: It Depends On Your Luck

Fortune (fu) in Mandarin

Always Lucky

I’ve written a pretty detailed post about analyzing whether it’s better to invest in stocks or real estate. Check it out if you’re wondering where to put your money. I tried to be unbiased in my analysis, but due to my experience investing in both asset classes for over a decade, I came to the conclusion that real estate was my preferred choice to building wealth.

Once acquired, real estate is pretty straightforward. Maximize rent, minimize expenses, let inflation take its course, and keep tenant turnover to a minimum. You are the King or Queen of your asset. Stocks, on the other hand, require constant re-balancing, trust in management, trust in a fund manager if you buy an active fund, and careful analysis of competitive forces that may hurt your investment. Think about how many great companies have disappeared over the years. This is why I recommend keeping most of your equity investments in low-cost index funds and focus on asset allocation instead.

One commenter pointed out the reason why I prefer real estate is because I was lucky to have bought in San Francisco in 2003. In this post, I’d like to address his beliefs and see if we can all just get lucky with our investments. After all, it’s always better to be lucky than good!

Become An Accredited Investor: Private Companies No Longer Want To IPO

Investors shut out of private investments if not accredited

Investors shut out of private investments

Do you know what the market capitalization was of Microsoft when they went public on March 13, 1986? A mere $500 million (~$1 billion in today’s dollars). If you had bought just 100 shares of Microsoft at the $21 offering and rode it all the way up to its peak in 1999, you would have cashed out for $1.4 million. Of course the stock came tumbling down and then back up. But you’d still have around $1 million bucks today. Not bad.

I remember working on the syndicate with my US colleagues during Google’s IPO back in 2004. We took the company public at a $23 billion market cap. Meanwhile, Facebook went public in 2012 at a $100 billion market cap. See a trend here? Companies are going public later and later in the game, meaning the public is getting less and less of the upside benefit!

The people who are getting rich are 1) Private institutional investors such as the hedge funds, venture capital funds, venture debt funds, and private equity funds, 2) Accredited investors who are able to invest in such private funds, and 3) The employees qualified enough to get jobs at these hot startups. Everybody else is shut out!

Seeing if we can balance the scale is one of the main reasons why I decided to consult with Sliced Investing. Sliced Investing is lowering the bar to let more investors gain access to private company deals and private investment funds that were never available to the public or regular accredited investors before. For example, I never would have imagined being able to invest as little as $20,000 into Lyft’s latest fundraising at a $2.8 billion valuation. What’s $2.8 billion when Uber raised money at a $48 billion valuation last year? Working intimately with private companies over the past couple of years has really opened my eyes.

Buying Structured Notes For Downside Investment Protection

Hedged Upside With Structured Notes

Are your investments hedged?

We could be in another financial bubble, but nobody really knows when a correction will take place. You might not even care if your investments decline by 20% or more over a year time frame if you are looking to invest over the next several decades. But alas, none of us will live forever, and nobody really likes to experience downside volatility. Sooner or later, we’ll have to deploy our capital for life, leisure, and charity. Not everybody wants to leave a financial legacy to raise spoiled kids!

One of the strategies I’ve taken to protect against downside risk is to buy various structured notes based on different indices like the S&P 500, Euro Stoxx 50, and the Russell 2000, or buy single stock structured notes of specific companies. Not only do I regularly rebalance my portfolios, I also consistently dollar cost average every month. You’ll be surprised how big a fortune you can create after just 10 years by methodically applying these two financial practices.

Structured notes are derivative products that usually provide hedged returns. In this post, I’d like to explain to you another recent structured note I bought to help illustrate how structured notes work. I buy all my structured notes through a Citi Wealth Management account. My other investment portfolios include: a Rollover IRA, a SEP IRA, a Self-Employed 401k, and a Motif Investing portfolio. 

Are We In Another Financial Bubble? Valuations Look Stretched

Stock Market and Real Estate Market Bubble PoppingOf course we are in a bubble! When you’ve got people with no professional financial experience giving investment advice, you better believe we’re in a bubble. Online investing advice by non-finance professionals is the modern day version of shoe shine boys giving stock tips prior to the crash of 1929. Always understand the background of those who give investment advice before considering their counsel.

Even after 20 years of investing and working in the finance industry, I always feel uncomfortable giving any sort of investment advice because I’ve had way too many losses partly thanks to multiple boom and bust cycles. Furthermore, everybody’s risk tolerance and money making abilities are different. The best thing we can do is have an appropriate asset allocation to ride out the waves.

The good thing about bubbles is that the greater fool game can last for much longer than expected because we humans are GREEDY, GREEDY, GREEDY!

The largest criers of the word “BUBBLE!” are those who have the least amount at stake. Perhaps they sold their real estate, stocks, or businesses before 2012 and are now kicking themselves. Maybe they are still graduate students with a lot of student loans to repay. Or maybe they are retirees or early retirees who can no longer take full advantage of a heated economy. Whatever the case may be, when the largest complainers of a bubble start getting back in, you know danger is imminent.

Let’s at least all agree that we’re in the second half of a bull market and the bubble will eventually burst. Maybe we’ll only correct by 15%-20%, unlike 2009’s 50% ass-kicking. But eventually, that year or three of pain will come!

Is Buying A Stock Coincidentally Before An Acquisition Insider Trading?

Insider Trading Jail CellOn Saturday, July 16, 2014 I played in a tennis tournament with a partner that worked at Trulia, an online real estate company. He just got his job and was explaining to me how the company makes money through its ad placements for Realtors. If you’ve ever wondered why companies like Trulia and Zillow have done nothing to lower selling commission rates from 5%, it’s because real estate agents are their clients. Asking how a company makes money or plans to make money is always my number two question after understanding what the company does.

We had a really fun time playing against Berkeley Tennis Club across the bay. After getting home, I decided that I was going to buy Trulia stock because I liked their business model, the stock had corrected somewhat, I was bullish on the real estate market, and it seemed like a prime takeover target. I was set on buying $50,000 worth of the stock on Monday, July 18.

For some reason, I got too busy that Monday and didn’t execute my order before 1pm PST. Mondays and Wednesdays were my consulting days for one of my ex-clients. I forgot about buying Trulia that entire week until I saw news after the close on July 28, 2014 that Zillow was acquiring Trulia for $3.5 billion in stock at a 25% premium! Damn! I could have made $12,500 in just a couple weeks!

What a shame. Or how fortunate. Let me explain.

How To Invest And Profit In A Rising Interest Rate Environment

Rising Interest Rates, Raygun Rocketship, by Nan Palmero

Rising Rates? Photo of Raygun Rocketship by Nan Palmero

After 34+ years of declining rates, you now believe that interest rates are finally going to start increasing. After all, the Fed Funds rate is at 0.25% and the 10-year yield is at ~2%. How much lower can they go?

I’m in the camp that interest rates will stay low for years to come because of the following reasons:

* Information efficiency
* Economic slack
* Contained inflation
* Coordinated Central Banks
* The growth of China and India and their continued purchasing of US debt
* The growing perception that US dollar denominated assets are the safest assets in the world
* A 30+ year trend of declining rates that is telling us we’re more adept at managing inflation with each new cycle that passes

But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say rates start rising aggressively? Where should one invest? What else should one do? To answer these questions, let’s first look back at history and get smart!

Personal Capital Review – New Investment Features

Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital

Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital

After four years of using Personal Capital’s free financial tools to track my net worth, manage my cash flow, and optimize my investments, it’s finally time I do a unique review of Personal Capital from the perspective of an entrepreneur, a partner, an equity shareholder, a consultant between Nov 2013 – April 13, 2015, and currently an advisor.

I’ve highlighted in previous posts how I use Personal Capital to reduce portfolio fees and how to run various growth scenarios to better manage your 401(k) for retirement. Now I’d like to share with you some thoughts about the company’s latest new features that will help you achieve your financial goals.